The biggest redaction from the Mueller report is the one we can’t even see—the counterintelligence operation, the primarily FBI-led effort to to assess and counter Russian influence on Trump before and after the election—is entirely missing from the report that was delivered to Attorney General William Barr. There are a few hints of its existence in the form of color-coded redactions within the version of the report made public by Barr, but the results of that investigation, which is still ongoing, are unknown.
What is clear is that Russia’s involvement in the election was extensive. In fact, it was more extensive than was known previous to the release of the report. Russia wasn’t just buying ads on Facebook or propping up false news sites to claim that Trump had won the endorsement of the Pope. It was also organizing actual protests and rallies inside the United States, including such events as a “Miners for Trump” rally in Pennsylvania. Russia had “boots on the ground” inside the United States. For Trump.
While the counterintelligence investigation may still be under wraps, assuming Barr hasn’t ordered it to be dismantled, some things about the Russian activities are made very clear. Among them is that Russia very much wanted Trump to win. As many had reported, Russia began in earnest setting up their program to disrupt the U.S. election in 2014, but later switched to support “favorite candidate Trump” while attacking Hillary Clinton. From then on everything it did—social media, thievery, planting stolen information, creating false narratives—was done for Trump. It was all part of the Russian government’s program to support Trump by conducting a massive operation, both online and on the ground, to wreck American democracy.
One of the other items that makes the report is just how excited Russia was by Trump’s victory and how quickly Vladimir Putin worked to capitalize on their new friend in the White House. As Politico reports, Trump became the subject of an “all hands” meeting at the Kremlin as Putin assigned Russian oligarchs to get close to Trump and his transition team. They began an immediate project to “establish a backchannel line of communication” to Trump.
And, just as they were during the campaign, Trump’s team was entirely “receptive” to this idea.
Beginning immediately after the election, individuals connected to the Russian government started contacting officials on the Trump Campaign and Transition Team through multiple channels-sometimes through Russian Ambassador Kislyak and at other times through individuals who sought reliable contacts through U.S. persons not formally tied to the Campaign or Transition Team. The most senior levels of the Russian government encouraged these efforts.
Hope Hicks received a phone all relaying at message from Putin at 3AM on Election Night, but it was just one of many contacts made over the next few days. What these contacts show was Russia eager to work with Trump, Trump was eager to work with Russia, and just how high a bar Mueller set for establishing “coordination.” So, while Mueller is clear that “As soon as news broke that Trump had been elected President, Russian government officials and prominent Russian businessmen began trying to make inroads into the new Administration” and that the Trump team responded eagerly, the report also reiterates:
The investigation did not establish that these efforts reflected or constituted coordination between the Trump Campaignand Russia in its election interference activities.
What the report appears to be saying is that, just because Moscow worked to get Trump elected, celebrated Trump’s victory, called an all-hands meeting to begin building a back channel into the transition team, and were meet with gleeful cooperation … it doesn’t mean the two sides were coordinating in a legal sense.
But it sure makes it clear that they were cooperating in every other sense.
- The Mueller report shows that Russia sought to help Trump through a sweeping range of tactics that ran from stealing private information from Americans to putting Russian boots on American soil to conduct espionage and run propaganda events.
- Trump’s campaign welcomed and accepted Russia’s help. It eagerly sought out meetings, looked for ways in which it could assist the Russian effort, provided Russia with critical data, and helped them to both evaluate and disseminate the stolen information.
- Russia had leverage over Trump in the form of his business connections, and in particular his desire to build a billion-dollar complex in Moscow. Trump covered up the timing and extent of his involvement with this project, including ordering people to lie about it, to cover up the extent to which he was in bed with the Russian government.
- Trump personally lied to the public and investigators. He also suborned perjury from both his campaign and White House staff.
- Trump’s campaign and White House staff ignored Trump’s orders to lie on many occasions. However, they did lie, withhold information, and destroy evidence of wrongdoing critical to the case.
- Both Trump and the campaign obstructed justice, lied to investigators, lied to Congress, destroyed evidence, and impeded the investigation in every way possible.
The only reason that Donald Trump was not charged with obstruction was entirely based on concerns about whether anyone from the Justice Department had the authority to level that charge, and nothing else. The report concludes that Donald Trump did take actions that would have resulted in obstruction charges for anyone else.
Mueller clearly left the decision about how to handle Trump’s obstruction not to William Barr, but to Congress.